The Keys to Win-Win Negotiations with Your Spouse
If you’ve ever been in a long-lasting relationship, you know that there’s no avoiding conflict. When we agree to spend our entire lives with another person, that means we are required to make big life decisions together. Decisions on anything from money, to where to live, to children, to jobs can greatly shape our life paths. We have a lot invested in these agreements and may feel unwilling to make concessions that could force us to compromise our personal dreams.
While we are likely to come into conflict with our spouses around big decisions, disagreement can also arise in the day-to-day. Life partners can face daily conflict when expectations are unmet or when responsibilities feel unevenly shared.
Fights, whether focused on topics big or small, can do real damage to our relationships. Nonetheless, conflict is inevitable in a serious relationship. Disagreement can even signify a healthy relationship, so long as we know how to handle it constructively. Conflict offers us an opportunity to hear and be heard, to learn more about one another’s needs, and to try to build our relationship and lives together.
The best way to ensure conflict is constructive, rather than damaging, is to join a negotiation skills training. While many envision negotiation as something carried out only in a business setting, the key messages of win-win negotiation training can be applied to almost any relationship. Indeed, negotiation courses can offer real value to our lives, giving us tools and tactics we need to maintain and improve our romantic relationships. Here are a few ideas that will help you reap the benefits of win-win negotiation in your marriage.
Many times, after years of marriage, we fall into patterns. Some of these patterns may feel comfortable and provide us with a sense of stability and love. However, we may also begin to stereotype our partners, expecting that our spouses will do what they “always” do. These simplified caricatures can cause real problems in marriage. The problem intensifies when our partners feel the need to raise a concern with us and we fail to truly listen to what they are saying.
We may feel like we have heard it all before, that their complaints and concerns never end and never change. We may tune out their concerns. We might seek to get out of the conversation as soon as possible. We may even start planning our next talking point, based on what we expect them to say. When we fall into the trap of believing we know our partners so well that we know what they are going to say and don’t need to listen, we miss a valuable opportunity to learn about our partners’ needs.
An important skill that we can take away from negotiation trainings is true listening. Listening helps build empathy with our counterpart and allows us to identify our partner’s needs, so that we can creatively seek win-win solutions together. So, next time your husband or wife brings a problem to your attention, focus in on the needs your partner is expressing. Echo back what you here to ensure you understand what they are saying. The mere fact of feeling heard may dispel some of our partner’s built-up anger or frustration. It can help us to create good will in the relationship, which can benefit our negotiations. Furthermore, by truly hearing our spouses, we can identify what is important to them. When we understand the needs our spouses express, we have the first ingredient necessary to create a win-win solution together.
Sometimes, when our partners bring up a concern, we can hear it as a complaint or criticism. We may downplay their concern, get hurt, or even become defensive. However, negotiation courses show us that entering a negotiation in bad faith, from a place of hurt and anger, can mean a loss for both sides. Unlike in business, where a person can more easily walk away from their counterpart at the negotiation table, a losing negotiation in marriage may mean long-term, deep pain. That’s why, with each new conflict, we should embrace the opportunity to change our perception about the conflict itself.
Instead of getting upset when we get feedback or when our partners have different opinions, we can bring gratitude that our spouse is willing to share their hopes and needs with us. If we view their complaint as a genuine expression of concern for our shared future, we can ground in thanks for our partner’s honesty and for their courage in expressing themselves. From there, we can embrace the possibility of seeking solutions together.
Remember what we’re building towards
Whenever we feel on the brink of conflict with our partners, we should remember that through marriage, we are seeking to build a shared life with our spouses. Through marriage, we have decided to invest in a lifelong relationship with another person. If we demonstrate our strong desire to fix a problem that is causing a snag in an otherwise happy relationship, we will demonstrate how important the relationship’s wellbeing is to us.
Given that we are committed to our marriages for life, our goal should be to increase both spouses’ happiness and wellbeing, rather than to prove a point, make them feel guilty, or coerce them into accepting our views. We should remember that we are on the same side. If we have truly heard our spouse’s concerns, we can show them that their happiness and ability to get their needs met is just as important to us as our own. We can look to make an agreement as a team, finding solutions that will take care of a problem standing in the way of our joint happiness.
As we seek to demonstrate our commitment to our partners through the way we handle negotiations, it’s important to remember a key lesson from win-win negotiation training: many solutions are possible. When we successfully hear and understand our spouse’s needs and express our own, we can abandon our staked-out positions in favor of seeking creative, negotiated solutions that meet all of those needs. By maintaining this dedication to both people’s happiness, rather than to proving a point or getting exactly what we want, we demonstrate that we value our spouses, their wellbeing, and our shared relationship with them.
These win-win negotiation tactics can help make any conflict more constructive, even if only one party has adopted them. Nonetheless, if we feel like our spouse is resorting to manipulation, coercion, wheedling, or guilt to make us acquiesce to their desires, we may quickly lose patience and tire of seeking cooperative solutions win-win negotiation.
However, when we are able to jointly commit to these negotiation strategies, we will be well-equipped to create solutions as a team. When both spouses hear and are heard, express gratitude at one another’s honest expression of needs, and look creatively for solutions that work for everyone, then negotiations will be a lot more productive.
Nonetheless, don’t get discouraged if you are the only one using your newly-learned win-win negotiation skills. If we stay vocal about our commitment to creating constructive spaces for conflict and we show our spouses how negotiation skills help us successfully find win-win solutions, it becomes far easier to convince our partners to try out some of the same winning negotiation strategies.